When looking at race boards, there are a few things you must consider:
Rail shape and thickness
Ability- where you are in your SUP experience
By understanding what each part of the race board is, what it was designed for, and how you'll feel when paddling it, you'll be able to make an informed decision and make sure you'll keep on smiling long after your purchase.
Basically there are two types of construction when dealing with race boards. The first, and most popular being carbon fiber. The second being fiberglass construction.
Carbon boards are often lighter to carry on land and most paddlers tend to believe this lightness of character translates well in the water. Meaning- a lighter board out of the water equals a lighter board in the water and therefore faster. However, with this lightness of carry and extra speed comes with it a fragility not often found in fiberbglass boards. Dings and dents often happen much easier with carbon boards as they are lighter in their layers and heat up much easier in the sun- often causing delamination. (which is a big problem to fix!)
If you are an experienced flat water paddler and are easy on your equipment- a carbon board might be the way to go. But, if you're still in the novice stage and tend to mark up your board easier than most- then the durability of a fiberglass board might be better for you.
Traditionally speaking, there are two types of lengths when it comes to race boards- 12'6'' and 14'. Again, traditionally speaking, women tend to ride 12'6'' boards and men 14' boards. These are not steadfast rules when purchasing your board- so buy whatever you feel comfortable with!
But also know that each length has it's positives and negatives. With added length comes added glide and speed as a longer board tends to track a lot better in the water allowing the paddler to take fewer strokes per minute, yet have a continuous long glide. Which is why you will see paddlers who participate in distance races such as Chattajack, Goat Island, etc, on 14' boards. The longer glide, combined with the less strokes, makes paddling distance more efficient and less taxing on the body. So if you're looking to go fast, then a 14' board might be in order.
However! Make sure you have a place to store something that big. New customers in the race board scene often underestimate how much room it takes to store such boards. If you have a garage area at your disposal, or can rent space for a certain amount of time- like you can do at our Paddle Inn marina- then go for it! Just know that if looks big in the shop, it'll look even bigger taking half of your garage up!
Now, most beginner racers tend to start on 12'6'' boards and they are still considered fast boards, but do not take up as much space as a 14' board. Beginner races are often held on 12'6'' race boards as well- with 14' boards being mainly in the elite category.
So if you're looking for a greater glide and have the space- a 14' board is for you. If you're just starting out and are looking to do some intermediate races as well as cruise on the bay- then a 12'6'' board is the way to go.
But it also gets more complicacted, so don't go buying one just yet!!
Width is a little bit easier to understand. The wider the board, the more stable, the easier it will be to stay on it consistently, but the slower it will feel- mainly because with added width, there's an added reach to the side of the board when paddling making your stroke slower, and less efficient. So, if your balance is not the best, the wider the board the better. But if you're looking for speed and a challenge, go as narrow as you are comfortable with.
Over the last few years, it seems many manufacturer's have began to tweak and test new designs of the noses on race baords. Some designers prefer a sharp point on the front and a pulled in keel on the bottom in order to create a cutting bow type nose. The idea there is for the board to penetrate the surface area of the water, loosening it up, and making it faster to move through the water. Other manufacturers believe it is better for boards to have a pulled in, small nose with a flat bottom to the board to create a planing hull, lifting the nose out of the water, creating more glide for a paddler with less resistance in the water.
Which one is better?
Both! and Neither! Alright, alright, let me be more clear. They both have their merits, in that the idea behind both is true and works well for the certain paddlers. In our opinion, if you are a heavy paddler, purchasing a board with planing hull will be better as it'll give the best flotation and stroke distance when paddling. If a heavier paddler is on a cutting bow type of board, it may sink the board too low into the water creating greater resistance when paddling. And with a lighter paddler, a planing hull may have too much flotation, causing the board to sit too high in the water, and giving the action of bobbing up and down instead of gliding. A cutting bow might be a better shape for a lighter paddler as it'll sink the board just enough to break the surface area of the water, but not too much, to the point of sinking it too far into the water.
Hopefully all of that makes sense!!
Being aware of the shape of the tail is good practice for purchasing any type of water board (surfboards included), but especially for race boards. The shape of the tail often times will determine the type of balance you will have on the board, how or difficult it will be to turn it, what type of draft you'll be giving off, and how far back you will have to walk on the board in order to execute a good pivot turn.
A big, square tail will provide the best stability, the biggest draft lane for your competitor's but it may be at a cost of speed. A more narrow tail will be faster, but much less stable. So, if you have good balance then a narrow tail might be best suited for your paddling technique. If not, then no matter how fast you can paddle, it will not make a difference if you are spending much of your time during the race in the water!!
There are two basic designs to the rail when it comes to race boards. The first is a square, thick rail. This construction will give you the most stability and will shed water quickly and easily. However, they do create more float in the water which may create more resistance and therefore prevent you from gaining your top speed. Again, with a thicker rail, comes more stability which means you'll be able to stay on your board much easier during a race, which of course, is the most important part of racing!
The other design for the rail is a rounder, more narrow rail. In theory, this type of rail should give you more speed as it is less surface area, the board is lighter, and easier to lean on in order to get the most efficient stroke. But will less volume comes less stability. And less stability, of which you are not prepared for, will always result in a slower race for the paddler.
The biggest factor in choosing your first race board is your overall ability- where you are in your SUP experience and athletic prowess. In order to have the most fun on a race board, we have to take an honest look at where we are, and choose a board according to our ability. Some of the more aggressive race boards will measure in the 23'' wide category- which is a very narrow board! If you have been paddling 32'+ your entire time on a SUP then shooting down to a board that narrow will result in many unfortunate growing pains- which may dampen your love for the sport as a whole. If we can be honest with ourselves and truly understand where we are in our skill level, then choosing the correct board will be easier and will insure that we will continue on into this sport with a smile on our faces.
Ultimately these are just a few guidelines when it comes to choosing a SUP race board. We understand that everyone has different skill levels, strokes, and balancing prowess, which makes choosing the correct board a very personal experience. The best thing you can do before making any purchase is simply to try a few boards out first. We at Walk on Water offer demos for anyone looking to make the plunge into SUP racing. Feel free to call us at 410-289-8787 to set up an appointment and get out on the water!!